Distribution of Communion

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
14th March 2004

Tagged: communion lord's supper lord's supper lord's supper ministry

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At the congregational meeting in 2003 I reported that we need to change many things if, as the Cathedral Church, we are to we are give leadership in the Diocesan Mission.

Many changes happen from day to day and are either too detailed, too many or too irrelevant to the life of the congregation to report or to consult over.  Some of the changes are larger and of more significance.  Finding the right level of consultation is itself difficult.

All changes should occur within an overall strategic plan.  We have no group set up to develop such a plan.  I invited the Advisory Council as a substantially congregationally elected body, to become the strategic planning group for the Cathedral, but they declined this invitation.

One issue of change upon which I have consulted widely within the congregations is the mode of distribution of communion.  The health reports received by the Diocese made it imperative that we make some changes quickly.  Looking at the alternatives and their theological, practical and symbolic significance I decided that the best alternative would be to distribute the wine in individual cups in the pews.

The reasoning behind the changes was explained in some detail in the report to the Annual General Meeting in May 2003.  The congregations were invited to make any comment that they wished to on that occasion or at any time.  The intention to make something of a survey of congregational attitudes after six months of the ‘new’ method of distribution was also indicated in that report.

Making such a change is a difficult step for congregational life. Evaluation of the change requires sufficient time to elapse for it not to be a novelty.  On the other hand there is no point persisting with a new approach that is manifestly failing to achieve the objectives. 

On some issues it is better to grow into a new pattern but on an “either/or issue” such as this one it is better to start where you hope to finish.  So we set ourselves six months to “experiment” with this changed mode of distribution. 

Throughout the time I have been listening to and monitoring the opinions expressed by congregational members.  Many helpful suggestions have lead to all kinds of small but significant improvements in the mode of distribution.  After six months all congregation members were provided with an opportunity to communicate in writing their attitudes on the subject. 

I have read carefully each response and have taken careful note of the reasons people want to continue with the individual cups or wish to return to the shared cups.  I have also weighed up all the alternative modes of distribution and ‘choreography’ that have been suggested. 

The 2003 report canvassed a large number of reasons for and against every mode of distribution as well as explaining why to start at the most likely ‘final point destination’.  It also explained the reasons against compromise solutions on this issue.  While many people have rightly expressed their preferences for the individual cups or the shared cups, there were very few reasons that were not canvassed in the AGM report. 

Peoples’ preferences do matter and their feelings are of importance, but preferences and feelings alone are not sufficient reason to return to a practice that has no theological value and that medical authorities have warned us against.    In the end the reasons for the change that were outlined in May last year, remain the reasons why we need to persevere with the change that we have made.

There are still some minor matters of how best to deliver the bread and wine in this way, and these matters are and can be addressed with minor modifications.

I am sorry that changes upset people who are used to certain ways of doing things.  We all develop the comfort and security of habit.  However I am very grateful to the many members of the Cathedral congregations who against their own preferences have given such a change every chance of working.  I know there are people who did not like this change, and still prefer the old way and would like some alternative, but who have worked hard to make the new method one that works smoothly and appropriately.  Such selflessness is greatly appreciated and truly reflective of the Supper that we are celebrating.